LSD still taboo in the Netherlands

Originally appeared at: The use of psychotropics like LSD and MDMA as therapeutic drugs has been taboo in the Netherlands since the late 1960s. Although Dutch researchers had previously achieved pioneering breakthroughs treating psychiatric patients, the worldwide banning of LSD in 1966 – combined with its adoption by the hippie counter-culture of the time as a “mind expanding” recreational drug – brought it into disrepute. While researchers in the United States, Germany and Switzerland are now permitted to experiment with treatments involving LSD and MDMA (the active chemical in Ecstasy), the Netherlands has never shaken off this taboo. Professor Stephen Snelders of the VU Medical Centre in Amsterdam explains the benefits of psychotropic medicine: “In Switzerland they’re using MDMA rather than LSD because it’s less powerful. There have been experiments in Israel too. In fact, all psychiatric disorders which are difficult to treat with other methods can be treated with psychotropic drugs. Addiction, for example. And terminal patients can be given LSD in order to familiarise themselves, so to speak, with what happens when you die.” In the past Dutch scientists were at the forefront of this kind of research. The treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome with psychotropics originated in the Netherlands. In the 1950s and 1960s, LSD was used to treat the traumas of dozens of former resistance fighters and concentration camp survivors. From 1966 onwards, however, researchers needed special permits to use what was now an illegal substance and it was difficult to provide the required clinical proof that LSD was successful. In the United States psychiatrists facing the same problem began new research and, over the past 20 years, scientifically tested various psychotropics and had them approved by the Food and Drug Administration. As a result, albeit with some stringent limitations, LSD can now be used to investigate the workings of the human brain. The chances of LSD being used again in Dutch treatment centres are minimal. It is still mainly associated with negative aspects of the 1960s. Professor Snelders notes that “the Dutch government doesn’t want any incident involving illegal drugs with a dubious reputation”. After all, it is not so long ago that the reporting about psychotropics consisted mainly of news stories about “trippers” allegedly believing they could fly and falling from buildings. On a more practical level, one of the problems with LSD and MDMA is that they cause different reactions in different people. Minute variations in the dosage can produce divergent results. That means the treatment demands intense involvement from the doctor. The pharmaceutical industry, of course, prefers to fund the development of cheaper and more predictable drugs. An brief article discussing the recent psychedelic research being conducted in the United States, Germany, and Switzerland, and the issues around conducting psychedelic research in the Netherlands.